I have walked by Açai Café on the beach boardwalk of Playas de Tijuana countless times and thought of it simply as the café with the Mario Bros. mural painted on the side. I had never gone in, opting instead for the comfortable café that is at the end of the boardwalk, Café Aquamarino. A place with great coffee and fantastic views but pretty bland food.
But this time I chose Açai Café, and not just because I’m a huge nerd and they have a Nintendo mural. I chose it because a vegan friend, who recently got a job in Playas, posts every day almost the same picture of the same exact fruit bowl. Pictures that make it look delicious.
The ocean breeze felt great as I approached. As I stopped on the balcony to take in the view and smell of the beach, a slight coffee smell was in the air. The small balcony has space for only two tables, two bar stools, and a dirty yet comfy couch. Two teenage girls were enjoying large sugary iced coffee drinks at one of the tables.
I walked in, and a cloud of tobacco greeted my nose. The band Zoe was playing loudly through poor speakers. Three male teenagers were in the middle of the café smoking a large hookah with their high school uniforms still on. To the right of the café, rubble for something under construction that read in Spanish “Firewood Pizza Coming Soon.”
I looked at the menu. The first page offered sandwiches, salads, açai bowls, desserts, and shisha (hookah) flavors. “It’s an old menu,” the barista told me. The menu had no sandwiches. “I have no idea when we are getting pizza.”
Anyway, I was there for the massive açai bowl my friend always posts about. There was the Rio Bowl with strawberries, bananas, granola, shredded coconut, and honey. The Tropical Bowl, which adds kiwi, cranberries, raspberries, and nuts. And the Choco Monkey with bananas, granola, peanut butter, chocolate, nuts, and shredded coconut. All of them just under $5.
I got the tropical bowl and a large Americano ($2), sat outside on the couch in the balcony, and waited. Three smells did a tango between the coffee being brewed, the breeze softly calming the hot day, and the hookah smoke.
The açai bowl was of a generous size and presented very fashionably. All of the ingredients were in abundance, except the honey. I should have asked for more honey. All the pretty fruits were arranged nicely on top, with frozen açai mix being the main ingredient in the bowl and granola and oatmeal sitting at the bottom.
The bowl was good, and most likely every vegan’s brunch desire. But for me, it was a gigantic ice-cream dessert. If it was half the size, it would have been what I would order after eating a cheeseburger (or something of the sort). It took me a while to eat, and though it was a large quantity of food I was hungry again an hour later.
The café seems to have multiple personalities, though their name defines what they do best, açai bowls. The ocean views make it a great location, but the hookah smell takes away some points. There is a second-floor terrace that looks comfortable, but the waitress told me she is usually there by herself and that the second floor mostly remains closed.